Extending the reach of research universities: A proposal for productivity growth in lagging communities

university quad


In contrast to the observed convergence in incomes between high- and low-income areas throughout much of the 20thcentury, recent decades have seen an increased clustering of economic activity that has led to diverging fortunes of different places. This phenomenon has revived interest in place-based policies that seek to revitalize lagging communities. Perhaps due to the widely held perception that high-tech clusters around the United States owe much of their success to neighboring universities, establishing research universities in lagging communities is increasingly being considered as a potential place-based policy. Our policy proposal seeks to shed light on the potential role of research universities as anchor institutions for local economic development. After carefully analyzing data and reviewing the literature, we propose that instead of establishing a new research university, lagging communities should focus on transferring productivity-enhancing knowledge to their local employers from existing research universities near their regions. To help achieve this goal, we propose a regionally targeted expansion of the 1988 Manufacturing Extension Partnership program that would encompass a broader range of sectors.